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Dakar Tense Ahead of Senegal Elections Ruling


Senegalese anti-government youth rally against President Wade in Dakar, Jan. 27 2012.

Senegalese anti-government youth rally against President Wade in Dakar, Jan. 27 2012.

Despite a government-issued ban on public demonstrations ahead of the Constitutional Court’s decision on who can run for president next month, rallies are taking place throughout Dakar.

In the face of unrelenting opposition, Senegal backed down from its five-day ban on demonstrations surrounding President Abdoulaye Wade’s controversial bid for a 3rd term.

The main rally started with a prayer. In lieu of a mosque, hundreds prostrated themselves for the Friday prayer in Dakar's Place d'Obelisque.

The M23 opposition movement has been waiting for the high court to decide on President Wade's candidacy, and it has not mobilized supporters on such a scale since the June 23rd protests, for which the group is named. On that day, mass demonstrations forced Wade to withdraw a constitutional referendum that would have all but guaranteed February reelection.

Imam Chérif Mballo, who led the prayer, hopes it will help the opposition movement score another victory over Wade.

"If the prayer proves effective and Wade renounces his candidacy, that would be extraordinary," says Mballo via interpreter. "But if he doesn't renounce, action must accompany the prayer, because, without action, the prayer cannot succeed."

The 85-year-old president is seeking a third term despite a limit of two that he signed into law in 2001, after his first election. He now says the law does not apply retroactively and that it is up to the constitutional council -- not the opposition -- to decide.

The court's decision is expected before its deadline of midnight Friday. In addition to Wade, the court, which comprises five presidentially-appointed jurists, will decide the candidacies of more than 20 hopefuls, including Grammy award winner Youssou N'Dour, who made an appearance at Friday's rally.

"History will be written in Senegal on Friday and they will not accept anything except the meaning of the constitution," says N'Dour via interpreter. "He believes it is very clear and Wade doesn't have the right to seek a third term."

Though the mood is hopeful, it is also tense. Most in Senegal and the international community believe the court will confirm Wade as a candidate.

Abdoul Lo, a Senegalese political analyst, fears an affirmative decision would threaten the most stable democracy in the region.

"We’ve seen what happened in Cote d’Ivoire months and months ago, and some people fear that this may happen again in a country that has a very long history of democracy," says Lo.

President Wade has said he needs at least three more years to finish important projects that he has started, but M23 says he has to leave office now.

Both await the council's decision.

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